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  1. #1
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    Pacific coast in California - traffic in the next 2 weeks?

    I'm in mid-tour right now and nearing the California border, heading south. We're using the adventure cycling maps, and the "riding conditions" section advises us not to bike in summer due to traffic, or, if we must, to ride from dawn to 10 am and then pack it in for the day at that point.

    We've seen a fair bit of traffic as we came south through Oregon but I imagine California will be worse, especially after July 4th when a lot more people take vacations. Also I hear the roads in California are worse (more areas with blind corners and no shoulders).

    Riding from dawn to 10am is going to be difficult. We're camping and it takes a long time to pack in the morning; getting up at 5 am every day would be tough. It may be a little extreme, too, but I've been on US 101 long enough already to be very wary of riding in high traffic. Does anyone have experience riding this route? What's the best strategy to dealing with traffic? Best times to be on the road, etc?

    Also can anyone confirm what we've heard about shoulders? Are we going to find a lot of areas with no shoulders? What do you do on a blind corner with no shoulders? That would really scare me.

    Thanks.

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    Don't worry about it. I would try to minimize riding on the 4th weekend, especially Sunday afternoon when everyone is driving home. Just go to the beach that day. Also, for the 80 miles or so just south of Monterrey (Big Sur) try to not do that on the weekend.

    For the blind corner/no shoulder - yes those conditions do exist, but there's not really so much traffic that it's a problem. Do stay as far to the right as you can, because a driver isn't going to have much chance to react. If there's really a lot of traffic, just hang out for an hour and see if it changes.

    But other than that, just stay right, be visible, and have a fantastic trip!
    ...

  3. #3
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    Hi there!
    I've never biked this area, but I used to live in CA and I've been on the 101, and 1, more times than I can count (almost exculsively in the summer months). When I drive the 101 and 1 I see plenty of bikers but the shoulders are pretty bad in some areas. I would probably advise against going on the 1 (espeically in the stretch by umm, I think Big Sur area, before San Louis Obispo area) because even in a car I feel dangerously close to the edge of the cliffs, and I don't think I would enjoy it anymore on a bike. Through the redwoods and stuff I always find the traffic to be manageable, usually pretty low and I see quite a few bikers through there. I think no matter what your going to find traffic in California in the summer, but maybe try to avoid any major towns along the way and take the back roads. Good Luck!! Enjoy

  4. #4
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    In the northern part of the state (say, north of Jenner), there are towns along the coast and the only way to get goods to them is for trucks to drive along Highway 1. In my experience, there is more truck traffic on that section of 1. In addition, that section has narrow or no shoulders that, in combination with all the trucks, can make for some close calls.

    Once past Jenner, Highway 1 isn't much of a truck route, so the traffic is more cars, which are easier to share the road with.

    In the Big Sur area, RVs get to be a problem. But, due to the curves on Highway 1, the cars/RVs can't go all that fast so while there can be traffic, it doesn't go much over 45 MPH.

    I recently rode from Montara (just south of San Francisco) to Laguna Beach and tried to take pictures of the road shoulders along the way to give people an idea of what they were in for.

    Both of these pictures were taken between Carmel and Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park.

    Sometimes there is a bit of shoulder.



    And, sometimes there is none.



    You can view the entire journal here.

    I ridden from SF to LA five times and never had a problem that a mirror and prudence couldn't handle.

    But, like valygrl says. I would avoid the week-ends and July 4th, in particular, in Big Sur, if you can.

    Ray
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  5. #5
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    Haven't ridden on 1 in the last few weeks, but I did do my annual tour from SF down to Cambria and then to the bike rally in Paso Robles just before Memorial Day. Traffic this year was markedly lighter than in the past, especially south of Carmel. I presume this is largely due to the economic crisis and also the uncertainty about the state's budget and funding to keep the parks open.

    So, while there aren't any guarantees, I wouldn't worry too much about traffic problems as you come south. Try to avoid the busiest areas around tourist towns during the weekends but otherwise just plan on keeping your schedule a little flexible so you can wait out any periods when the traffic and road conditions aren't within your comfort level.

  6. #6
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    You don't say where you are ending your ride so I'll add this bit of advice about Laguna Beach.

    The scariest part of the coast ride, for me, was the part that goes through Laguna Beach. The traffic goes at high speed and you have to ride between parked cars and the right lane of traffic. There is very little room between these two. In fact, people exiting cars have to be careful not to lose their doors to oncoming cars.



    I have learned to avoid as much of Highway 1 through Laguna Beach by turning left as soon as I can and going up 1 street to Hillcrest and once past downtown to go along Gleneyre. This eventually dumps you back on Highway 1 where you have a few miles of harrowing riding. But, it is a much shorter gauntlet then if you stay on Highway 1 the whole way.

    Ray
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    ^^ I'd agree with the poster above. Laguna traffic is scary! I've heard of a few bikers hit on PCH. Also (I guess depending on the bike your riding) I would take some of the board walk paths through Huntington Beach/Newport etc. They are my favorite place to ride. It will probably take you alot longer but its definatly a nice day ride that will allow you to stay on the beach for basically the whole time!

  8. #8
    Senior Member BigBlueToe's Avatar
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    When I rode the west coast in 1992 there were some dicey sections in California, although most of the way the shoulders were fine. In northern California there was a lot of construction going on, plus several sections with no shoulders. The combination of the two made for some of the scariest days. Going over Leggett Hill I almost got killed by a logging truck who passed me on a blind corner, then came back into me when an oncoming car approached. Luckily there was a ditch to go into; in some places there's a sheer rock wall.

    Between Carmel and San Simeon, there are lots of places with no shoulders.

    Traffic will be bad anytime in the summer, but weekends are probably a little worse.

    As bad as all that might sound, this is still one of the most spectacular rides anywhere, and I'd go again. However, I've adopted some practices to try and help keep me safe and healthy.

    One is a mindset of not being in a hurry, and not being too proud to pull off the road and let trouble go by, even if you have to do it frequently and repeatedly. It's an annoyance to pull over, stop, and start up again, but I'd rather do that than get squished. I pull over anytime I feel that by staying on the road there's a potential for disaster. I learned that when the logging truck almost killed me on Leggett Hill.

    Another is to always use a rearview mirror. Whenever you're on a road with an insufficient shoulder and an oncoming car is going to pass you at the same time as an overtaking car, there's a potential for disaster. Most passing cars will swing wide around you if there's no one coming the other way. If there is, a considerate driver will slow down and wait until there's room to swing wide. An inconsiderate, impatient driver will pass you within inches. If you see that there might be a problem, look for a place to pull off the road and let trouble pass you by. This is greatly facilitated by having a rearview mirror, and I prefer one with flat glass. A convex mirror distorts distances so that I can't tell exactly when trouble will get to me.

    A variation of this is if you're on a winding road with limited visibility (like where I was on Leggett Hill.) You can't always see cars that are coming and will pass you at exactly the wrong time. After the incident with the logging truck, every time I heard a big truck approaching and I was on a winding road with no shoulder, I'd look for a place and pull off the road before the truck ever got to me. I still do that.

    I always try and find routes that are on roads with shoulders, and the ACA maps are good about this, but sometimes you can't avoid bad roads, especially if you want to ride on some of the more spectacular routes in the country. But there are still defensive things you can do to stay safe.

  9. #9
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    Nor Cal seems to always have some kind of road construction going on at some time or another. Just south of Crescent City is a narrow, winding, shady section of road that lasts like 5+ miles, then it clears out around Klamath, then you can exit at Newton B Drury and take the old road down into Orick, but then things get tight again. Shouldn't be too bad from there, and south of Eureka you can hit the Redwood Highway, which is real pretty and less traveled. South of there is some good sections, and bad, narrow sections, so no consistency.

    I see lots of cyclists when I'm up there, but I always think they're crazy as the roads are narrow and usually wet, so just be prepared to have to do a quick pull to the right and stop when traffic gets crazy. Nice thing is, there's not too much traffic, but Murphy's law says the one car on the road will be right at the narrowest section the same time as you.

    No real better time of the day than the other as most of the traffic is tourist who are trying to get to someplace, so they left early in the first place.

  10. #10
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    If you routinely ride in traffic, you'll probably be fine. Shoulders are narrower than southbound Oregon, mostly, but traffic mostly moves slowly. I think a mirror is a good idea, and the biggest problem are the rented motor homes. Drivers sometimes don't seem to know how wide they are. Then there's the occasional RV renter who forgets to fold up the steps on the right side. Once, two of us were hosed down by a passing RV whose owner forgot to close the cock on the holding tank. Lovely.

    The motor homes tend to get out later in the day.

    Also, count on a good tailwind most days, making it easier to power through your mileage on the early side. Avoid holiday weekend crowds if you can, and ask other cyclotourists you meet about their impressions, seasoning them with a grain of salt.

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    Quote Originally Posted by paxtonm View Post
    I think a mirror is a good idea, and the biggest problem are the rented motor homes. Drivers sometimes don't seem to know how wide they are. Then there's the occasional RV renter who forgets to fold up the steps on the right side.
    Agree with this. I haven't made the journey on a bicycle yet, but on my last motorcycle tour down the coast I saw lots of poorly piloted rental RVs. Weekends were definitely the worst time to travel and the area around Big Sur was the section that seemed most likely to be problematic for a bicyclist.

    Also, count on a good tailwind most days, making it easier to power through your mileage on the early side.
    During the motorcycle trip, we found that the wind around Big Sur combined with changes in road direction made for... eventful... riding. We went through later in the afternoon and the motorcycles were getting pushed across the road by big wind gusts. My understanding is that the wind picks up later in the day; we probably rode through at the worst possible time.

    My advice would be to avoid riding through Big Sur on the weekend (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) and when you do ride through, hit the road as early as possible in an attempt to get past the sketchy sections of road before traffic picks up.

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    When riding through Laguna Beach simply ride in the middle of the right lane. I live in south Orange County and that's the way I do it. Drivers might get annoyed but, f*$# 'em.

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    Two Cents re Big Sur

    I noticed that someone advised NOT riding Big Sur (Hwy 1 South of Monterey. Personally, I can't imagine riding the California Coast, let alone the entire Pacific Coast, without riding Big Sur. I have portions of it many times and all of it on several occasions and it is the most spectacular bike route you will probably experience in your life. Yes, it is twisty and can be windy. Yes there are RV's. Yes the cliffs on the ocean side of the road can be fairly steep and high. That said...Do it. I assume you can handle a bike since you've already ridden from Canada (I assume). The RV's will not be doing more than 45 mph or so in the hilly, twisty sections. Most drivers are courteous....there are great campgrounds. Just do it...and not at 5 in the morning. Leaving your campsite by 8 should be fine. Traffic is down this year (the economy)... You will have great fun.

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    In case anyone comes back to this thread...
    We survived California and had a great time, but traffic was dicey at several points. We each got mirrors and I don't think you can ride safely in California without them. We also got some bright reflective vests ($6 at Target, look in the automotive section) which I think really helped.

    In northern California near the redwoods there are a few places where the 101 loses the shoulder during a big climb. Mainly there were two hills, one after Crescent City and one before Leggett. For each of these we timed our days so that we did the climbs early in the morning. We were very glad we did; traffic became quite heavy on the 101 by mid-day and those climbs would have been very dangerous. Cars move fast and if there is not room for them to go around (due to oncoming traffic), 90% of them will squeeze by you at high speed. Not fun.

    Long descents can be tricky too because the cars want to pass you, but they can't just whip around because you're going too fast, and it's hard for you to ride way over because the shoulder is dangerous at high speed (rocks, potholes etc). We found it was most comfortable to slow down a bit and pull to the right whenever we could see cars about to catch up to us. The slower you are the easier it is for them to pass safely.

    Highway one was usually good for traffic, we took rest days so as not to ride on weekends. The worst parts were around Mendocino county where the road is very twisty and there is no shoulder, since cars take the corners blind and come up suddenly, though they're normally slow. There is a dangerous spot near Pacifica south of San Francisco but we happened to meet a local cyclist who led us around it on a paved (but rugged) trail called Old Pedro Mountain Road; other cyclists we met said the highway there was terrifying. Big Sur was mostly fine (though the wind was scary a few times) and the riding was some of the best on the coast.

    Thanks for all of your answers - they really helped us.

  15. #15
    Every day a winding road spinnaker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by raybo View Post




    Ray
    Hey Ray,

    Where is this? At first I thought it was Devils Slide but I don't think so now.

    "The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."

    Albert Einstein

  16. #16
    Bike touring webrarian
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    I know this is an old thread, but I wanted to answer Spinnaker's question.

    The photo is a few miles south of Rocky Point, which is a few miles north of Pfeiffer Big Sur park. As I recall, it is just past a pull out (though, there are lots of those in that area).

    If you go to google maps and enter Rocky Point, Ca, you can check out the road using little man at the top of the menu. It turns out it was a very foggy day when Google's photos were taken.

    Ray
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    Quote Originally Posted by PercussivePaul View Post
    I'm in mid-tour right now and nearing the California border, heading south. We're using the adventure cycling maps, and the "riding conditions" section advises us not to bike in summer due to traffic, or, if we must, to ride from dawn to 10 am and then pack it in for the day at that point.

    We've seen a fair bit of traffic as we came south through Oregon but I imagine California will be worse, especially after July 4th when a lot more people take vacations. Also I hear the roads in California are worse (more areas with blind corners and no shoulders).

    Riding from dawn to 10am is going to be difficult. We're camping and it takes a long time to pack in the morning; getting up at 5 am every day would be tough. It may be a little extreme, too, but I've been on US 101 long enough already to be very wary of riding in high traffic. Does anyone have experience riding this route? What's the best strategy to dealing with traffic? Best times to be on the road, etc?

    Also can anyone confirm what we've heard about shoulders? Are we going to find a lot of areas with no shoulders? What do you do on a blind corner with no shoulders? That would really scare me.

    Thanks.

    I think I will not go to that blind corner. I will find another route. It is scary to go to that place. I suggest not to go if there is a blind corner with no shoulder. It's dangerous.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by PercussivePaul View Post
    I'm in mid-tour right now and nearing the California border, heading south. We're using the adventure cycling maps, and the "riding conditions" section advises us not to bike in summer due to traffic, or, if we must, to ride from dawn to 10 am and then pack it in for the day at that point.

    We've seen a fair bit of traffic as we came south through Oregon but I imagine California will be worse, especially after July 4th when a lot more people take vacations. Also I hear the roads in California are worse (more areas with blind corners and no shoulders).

    Riding from dawn to 10am is going to be difficult. We're camping and it takes a long time to pack in the morning; getting up at 5 am every day would be tough. It may be a little extreme, too, but I've been on US 101 long enough already to be very wary of riding in high traffic. Does anyone have experience riding this route? What's the best strategy to dealing with traffic? Best times to be on the road, etc?

    Also can anyone confirm what we've heard about shoulders? Are we going to find a lot of areas with no shoulders? What do you do on a blind corner with no shoulders? That would really scare me.

    Thanks.

    I think I will not go to that blind corner. I will find another route. It is scary to go to that place. I suggest not to go if there is a blind corner with no shoulder. It's dangerous.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by raybo View Post
    You don't say where you are ending your ride so I'll add this bit of advice about Laguna Beach.

    The scariest part of the coast ride, for me, was the part that goes through Laguna Beach. The traffic goes at high speed and you have to ride between parked cars and the right lane of traffic. There is very little room between these two. In fact, people exiting cars have to be careful not to lose their doors to oncoming cars.



    I have learned to avoid as much of Highway 1 through Laguna Beach by turning left as soon as I can and going up 1 street to Hillcrest and once past downtown to go along Gleneyre. This eventually dumps you back on Highway 1 where you have a few miles of harrowing riding. But, it is a much shorter gauntlet then if you stay on Highway 1 the whole way.

    Ray
    Laguna Beach stinks, I rode from LA to Oceanside on Memorial Day and that was by far the worst part of the trip. The only two jerkoff drivers I encountered were in there, there was nary a honk or a shout the rest of the trip.



    Home to a lousy stretch of PCH!


    Also, after you leave Laguna Beach, going into Dana Point, there is a nice wide shoulder and bike lane, but there is a huge bump in the bike lane going downhill that you can't see that scared the crap out of me!
    Last edited by dokydoky; 06-05-10 at 03:21 PM. Reason: added pic

  20. #20
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    Short answer: Yes, the traffic is pretty terrible. But you can do it. Blinky lights/lots of neon on the whole time is about all you can do aside from praying.

    The good part is that once you get to Santa Barbara onward South, there are LOTS of cyclists out these days, making cars more aware (in general) than they have been in the past.

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